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How quickly after the death of a loved one are you able to heal?

Your questions: How quickly after the death of a loved one are you able to heal?

This is a question I was asked earlier this week. Now I’m not sure if the question is about how long until you can start healing work OR how long it actually takes to heal…so I’ll answer both, as there will be folk out there with both questions.

How long until you can start healing after a death?

It takes active work to heal and this is something most people aren’t ready for right after a death, when everything is at the surface and the experience can be very raw. Yes, I know ‘raw’ can be a crazy understatement here.

I think of this like “how soon can you get to the gym after a bad injury?” Well, initially you probably need some rest and basic rehab before you’re ready for anything the gym has for you. If you try joining a kickboxing class or grabbing some weights, you might find it rather challenging on a couple of broken limbs. Healing from grief is the same. There is a period where it’s about letting the experience happen, getting your feet steady on the ground, until the experience is less raw. Then you’re ready for healing work. My guideline is that I don’t work with anyone less than 6 months after a death. I used to when I began this work many years ago, which is how I learnt what I’m writing here now. Straight after a death is too soon to be looking for transformation. And, as much as you aren’t meant to stay in grief forever, you also aren’t meant to skip whatever you might experience entirely. There is a place for what I call ‘going through the shit’, whatever that might look like for you. And it’s at least that first 6 months.

As for the second question….how long does it actually take to heal?

Well this one is a tricky question, as I can’t give a direct answer without more information. Or without changing the question. Bear with me here.

To explain, I’ll turn back to the fitness analogies that you may have noticed I love. I do this, as the way that people talk and think about grief can be a bit vague, and often not practical or tangible. Whereas when we look at fitness or weightloss it’s very practical, tangible, and measurable.

If I was to ask you how long does it take to get fit, you can’t answer the question of how long it takes to get fit…without knowing what I’m doing to get fit.

Because you have to actually be doing something to get fit. (Spoiler alert: just like you have to be doing something to heal from grief).

If you’re wondering how much time has to passively pass before you magically find yourself fit. Well… if only, right?!

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. If you’re looking to get fit then what you are wanting is a transformation. And those don’t tend to happen passively.

Healing from grief is exactly the same.

If, however, you’re talking about just coping with, managing, getting used to, or learning to live with your grief (which I never am) then sure, that’s a thing that’ll passively happen eventually.

But please, want better than that for yourself! I do!

If we’re really talking about healing from grief, so there’s no more pain and you can think about them and love them easily anytime you want, then we’re talking about a big transformation. And rarely will that ‘just happen’. Only twice have I met people who found themselves beautifully healed from a death without knowing exactly what they did to get there. It’s incredibly rare. Just like those people who look amazingly fit, as if they’re at the gym all the time, but it’s just their body. Lucky bastards….but they aren’t most of us.

So the question isn’t how long does it take to heal. It’s “what are you actually doing to heal your grief?” and only then perhaps “and how long will it take?”.

So, what do you need to do to heal your grief?

These are the basic steps as I see them.

First, go through the shit. You may have already done your 6 months, 6 years, or 26 years. Great, you can tick that box. Now on to the stuff that will actually bring about the transformation you want.

Next comes the most important piece. Examining all the reasons why you want to keep your grief and then turning them around. Most people’s reaction to this is that they don’t actually want their grief, but I can promise you that you have reasons you don’t want to be without it.

Are you frightened that healing your grief completely means you don’t love them anymore, or have forgotten them, or don’t care about them anymore? Does it mean you’re a bad, disloyal or unfeeling person? Are you worried what others would think of you? Does no longer having your grief mean you would’ve said goodbye to them and are completely disconnected? Or has your grief become a crutch in some way for you? Does it give you an excuse? Has it become your identity in some way?

This part takes a lot of honestly. Like A LOT. But you need to know exactly what worries you have about no longer having your grief, because every part of you that wants to keep it (and I promise you there are parts that do), that thinks you need it for whatever reason, will keep you exactly where you are. It’s precisely all of these beliefs and reasons to hold on to grief that see people still crying on their deathbeds over deaths that happened a lifetime ago, not the story we’ve been sold that grief lasts forever.

Figure out these things, hold them up to the light, question them. Until you can see that they don’t make sense. Easier said that done, I know. But this part is crucial. And there’s no healing without it. (This actually inspires me to do a series of blogs on all of these beliefs…so keep an eye out for those in the future).

You need to get to a place where, if offered a tap on the head with a magic wand to instantly remove all your grief, you’d jump at the chance without hesitation. Otherwise you’ll keep yourself stuck. Once you’ve done this part then the next part is…

…to turn around your story of their death.

For this you need to look for the other side of death. Ah yes, there really is one. Most of us were brought up with the idea that death is bad and don’t know how to see it any other way. Dying is bad. Someone we love being gone is bad. Pain and discomfort through death is bad. What we don’t usually have a clue about is the other side. The beauty of death. I promise you, there is more profound beauty for you to discover there than you can possibly imagine.

This part is about looking for (and looking until you find it) the good side of everything that happened around their dying and death. The good for them. And the good for you. This means examining every part that currently causes you pain, and looking for a side of it that you haven’t seen before. Looking for the good, or the beauty, or the gift, or the usefulness in it. This is something many people are able to do in other areas of life, but we’ve been given such a black and white view of death (it’s bad, bad, bad) that we often draw a blank here. Look at it with different eyes and you will find a different story. Do this enough and the story will change completely.

And this is where the grief totally transforms and healing happens.

Here’s a video I recorded years ago, going a little more indepth into what it takes to heal. I admit to finding this a little hard to watch, as this was me fresh from UK-living with a bit of an English accent. Cut to today where I’ve been back in NZ for years and have gone full-Kiwi again. (Shudders). Sorry, fellow Kiwis. But I suppose no-one asked about my accent, so back to you….

I think it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that my answer may not be at all what you wanted to hear. Look, I get it. You may have preferred I simply wrote “time heals all wounds” and then “it’ll take about 4 years for that to happen”. Or 1 year. Or 11 years. So just get on with life and all will be well. But I’d do you a great disservice to do that. The thing is you already know that time won’t heal this grief. Not truly. That’s why all the people around you who have been through deaths, and counsel you on your experience, probably tell you how long it took for them to feel ‘ok’ or ‘fine’ again. And then add “but you never really get over it”. That’s a familiar sentiment, right? Because just leaving it to time means you very likely won’t ever heal. I’d love to find a fitness expert who’d tell me it’d take me 8 months to get really strong and toned, “so no need to do anything different. Just carry on living life for the 8 months, Kristie, and take a look in the mirror after that, because the change will be amazing!”. But then I wouldn’t really listen to them, would I? Because I know that isn’t true. And they don’t help me by telling me what I want to hear if it’s nonsense.

So this is kind of a “sorry, not sorry” moment. I want so much for you to heal. And for that to happen you need to know that time or maybe time and regular therapy simply won’t get you there. Some people heal. Most don’t. If you want to heal, you need to do something that most aren’t doing. The healing work.

So, assuming you’re now doing something to heal, how long does this take? I won’t lie. This is tough to do alone. But it isn’t impossible. I did it alone. I was introduced to questions like the ones I’ve asked you above, and my little mind went to work turning over every rock, until there was nothing painful left to find. It can be done. An easier route is to work with me, which for most takes about 3-6 months. On your own it may take a few months (as it did for me). It may take years if you’re slowly and methodically going about unpacking it. But either way it’s so worth it.

The most important thing is to start. So probably, after all I’ve written above, my final answer to “how quickly after a death of a loved one are you able to heal?” is “Have you started yet?”.

Much love,

Kristie

xx

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